The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Q&A—Which Courses To Take?


    You mention the International Certificate of Competence and the Yacht Master Offshore course. I’m at the beginning of my journey and started with an ASA course. Are the Yacht Master courses going to be the best overall to begin working towards?

    Member, Michael


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  • Fun We Can Have Sailing Under Bare Poles

    I was out sailing singlehanded a couple of days ago. When I got back into our cove I, as usual when I’m planning to return to our wharf, dropped and furled the mainsail after starting the engine.

    But then it struck me that it might be fun to see if I could get alongside without using the engine, so I shut it down.

    The wind was blowing into the inlet where our wharf is so it would have been pretty easy to just dock bow downwind…or maybe not…read on.

    But being a bit of a wisenheimer, I thought, nah, that would mean then turning the boat around into her normal bow-out position.

    I had about 15 knots of wind from pretty much aft, although gusty, and that quickly brought the boat up to 2.5 knots driven by just the windage of the spar, furled sails, and dodger. Faster than I expected.

    On the way down the inlet I made a couple of 180° turns upwind and learned she would come into the eye of the wind and carry her way for about a boat length—always worth testing these things before we have hard stuff in the way.

    On my first pass I turned too late and ran out of way before getting near enough to the wharf to get on it safely—only idiots jump.

    So I had to start the engine and back off. But I was real close to success, so I motored upwind a few hundred yards and set up to try again.

    Second time I nailed it.

    Here’s what I learned:

    • Yes, the J/109 is agile and slippery, but any reasonably good sailboat can get up enough speed downwind under bare poles to steer well and turn into the wind to stop.
      • If the boat won’t get enough speed under bare poles, just unroll a bit of jib.
      • But roll it up before making the turn; if we leave it out the boat will accelerate in the turn and, worse still, the bow might blow off.
    • When docking upwind with no power step off with the magic spring and bow line first.
      1. The magic spring can be used to slow the boat and then run forward to stop her drifting aft.
        • (I used a line on the dock for the slow down, which made it easier single handed.)
      2. Then use the bow line to stop the bow from swinging off the wharf.
    • If docking downwind, use the magic spring and stern line but be careful as:
      1. Two knots is way too fast to get on the wharf safely.
      2. Bleeding off that much momentum with a line round a cleat could get us hurt—I wouldn’t try that, even with a light boat like the J/109.
    • The biggest danger is being too slow, or leaving the turn until too late, so the bow may get blown off to leeward and hit the dock.
      • If we think we are slow, better to make the abort call early and turn the bow away from the wharf before we lose all steerage.
      • Also, on balance, better to be too fast and have momentum to abort, rather than too slow.
    • While practising it makes sense to have the engine running in neutral, or at least warmed up. This saved me on the first approach.
      • I have a pile of experience with this boat and handling boats without engines from my one-design sailing days but even so I screwed up the first one.
    • With two people this would be verging on easy, even in a bigger boat, for one it’s challenging.
      • I would not try this single handed on a much bigger boat.
    • Be careful and mindful, a stupid move could get us hurt badly.
    • Sailing under bare poles is a skill that could get us out of some very deep yogurt in the event of an engine failure.
    • This is a way less fraught technique than making the docking with sails still up.
    • If you are thinking of taking the Yachtmaster exam, handling simulated engine failures and manoeuvring under sail are required skills.
    • This kind of experimentation will equip us to be safe and competent cruisers way more than…a huge amount of knowledge about lithium batteries.
    • More fun too.

    I liked the bare poles way so much that I’m thinking that when single handed I will use it to pick up the mooring, since steering, dropping the sail, and grabbing the mooring all at once can get a tad busy—I missed it three times in a row one day last week.

    Here’s a short clip of my second approach:

    • Because of the camera angle and jumpy video the approach looks faster than it was:
      • At the start of the approach I was doing 2.3 knots.
      • When we came alongside we were down to less than one knot.
    • I did not rig fenders since they are permanently on our floating wharf.
    • Sorry about the quality, it’s from our dock Nest camera.

    Further Reading:

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  • Never Forget The Go-To-Sea Option

    Have a quick read of this account of a race crew getting hit by a nasty thunderstorm when approaching their home port of Gloucester, Mass.


    Anything jump out at you?

    The first thing that hit me is that they never even considered waiting offshore for conditions to improve, or even daylight, before trying what turned out to be a very dangerous approach.

    Sure, it would have been rough out there but the wind was in the North so they would have been in at least a partial lee from Cape Ann.

    What about running off for Cape Cod where they could have rounded up under the Hook and anchored with no lee-shore danger?

    Don’t get me wrong. I was not there and Mass Bay can be a bad place, particularly if the current is running against the wind, with limited sea room in a northerly. Maybe they made the right call.

    But by entering Gloucester they were taking huge risks because of the breakwater under their lee. They got lucky on the aborted mooring approach but it could have gone very differently: hitting another boat, getting their mooring gear or someone else’s around the prop…the list is endless. A simple engine or steering failure could have have ended in a nasty wreck.

    Have I made the same mistake? Yes. In fact, that’s why this jumped out at me.

    I try to never forget:

    • It’s not the sea that kills sailors, it’s the hard bits around the edges.
    • The very human, and understandable urge to get home can lead us to bad choices.
    • Always consider ‘staying out there’ as one of our options.

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  • Take a Racer Sailing

    I have long argued that one of the quickest ways to become a better cruiser is to go racing as crew.

    It also works the other way around. Brooke (on the left) owns and seriously races a J/109 on Narraganset Bay. So while she was visiting with our friend Ed, she came out sailing on our J/109 and taught me a huge amount.

    This was particularly good because she owns the same boat, but even without that added advantage it’s well worth persuading a skilled racer to come sailing on your cruising boat. You will learn a lot.

    Pro tip: Racers love beer.

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  • Small Problems Add Up To Big Problems

    Member Tim Newson sent us the attached account of a serious situation that developed when several small oversights and maintenance failures came home to roost during a challenging early winter voyage across the North Sea—only Brits would think such a cruise might be fun!

    …OK, I have done that sort of thing, too, but then I have a British passport and went to school there, so that tells you everything you need to know.

    Anyway, Tim does a great job on the postmortem and lessons learned, as well as sharing the story of some good seamanship exercised in adversity that resulted in things ending well.

    I highly recommend you take ten minutes to read Tim’s paper, you will learn a lot, as I did.

    The only things I would add are:

    • I don’t think dry powder fire extinguishers are a good idea in engine rooms, but there may be regulations in the UK that make my preferred option not available, and I’m certainly no expert on fire suppression agents, although I have written some thoughts.
    • I would recommend installing a digital battery monitor on the boat, since I’m guessing from the account that they were using voltage to assess state of charge—very inaccurate, except on a battery that has been disconnected from all loads and charging sources for at least an hour.
    • I have also ranted and raved about the need for windlass clutches and brakes and entirely support Tim on this.

    Tim’s Report

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  • Question and Answer—Limited Fuel Range Voyage


    Member, George asked:

    I’m presently faced with challenge of a transatlantic delivery Maine- Azores and beyond.

    Boat is old 1978 NY 40, Palmer Johnson built. Pretty solid for IOR era as it was intended for Bermuda races as well as inshore events. Stickey issue is the 12 gallon fuel tank! I don’t like lashing 5 gallon jugs on deck nor approve of diesel storage anywhere below without approved design tankard…

    …Barely considering propulsion, just battery charging for auto pilot and house loads, probable 14+ days at a stretch, 40 gallons seems minimum. We’re fitting an old Navik wind vane, so if light conditions, if it doesn’t break we can augment the Garmin auto pilot. 4 on board so hand steering is also an option.

    I have a 20 gallon approved for diesel, can be installed below deck flexible tank. Thinking about installing that under aft bunk.

    I’d still need 4 more 5 gallon jerry cans & suitable plumbing for safe fuel transfer to main tank. Any words of wisdom?


    As you say, stowing cans on deck is not a good option.

    The good news is the NY40 sails well and there should be good breeze on that voyage, so as long as you watch the weather and make sure not to get too far south into the Bermuda-Azores high, you should be able to sail the whole way.

    That leaves charging. I’m thinking the best answer is a Watt & Sea hydro generator. That should provide all the electricity you need, as long as you are careful and hand steer some so the fuel can be kept for propulsion.

    Expensive, I know, but by far the best solution to this problem and a longterm fix for the boat’s small tank, too.

    I don’t much like the idea of the flexible tank because of chafe issues. I have been on a boat when a diesel tank ruptured at sea and it was beyond horrible!

    So how about adding a small rigid tank? Would be a good upgrade, anyway, not that hard to do, and you have time.

    Even if only say 12 gallons, that would bring the total up to an acceptable amount for the passage, since you would not need any for charging.

    The other idea would be say two to four cans below, maybe in a cockpit locker, well padded, and filled as Rob suggests. Given you will have charging covered off, you can wait for calm to transfer, and may not even need to do that.

    Anyway, good on you for not giving into the temptation to lash a bunch of jugs along the lifelines, as is all too common, and horribly un-seamanlike.

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  • A very bad place to put a solar panel

    Seriously? One wave strike, or even a gale, and this will end very badly. More on why we should not do stuff like this, at least if we plan to go offshore.

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  • Preventing Unintended Jib Unfurls

    The furler line is only secured by a cam cleat (under dodger flap in shadow) on our J/109, so when leaving the boat we clove hitch it around the winch. Also note the sheet is half hitched around the standing part.

    Before leaving the boat we also make very sure the jib is neatly rolled and the sheets take a couple of tight turns around the clew.

    Unintended jib unfurls are common and a seamanship fail.

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  • Sailing In Close Quarters

    I have to confess that over the 30 years we owned our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 I let my close-quarters sailing skills get rusty.

    It’s not that the boat is unhandy, far from it, with main and staysail she can be sailed into the smallest and most crowded of spaces.

    But somehow, in the the process of always going somewhere (that’s cruising), there just never seemed to be the time to take an hour over an approach when starting the engine would would bring a long day, or days, to a close in less than half the time.

    But now that we are sailing a boat primarily for the pure pleasure of it, that’s changed, and Phyllis and I are dusting off old skills to sail on and off the mooring, even when it adds an hour to the day…or maybe because it adds an hour to the day.

    I even managed to pick up the mooring under sail in our crowded anchorage singlehanded…and then was insufferable about it for weeks.

    Anyway, aside from the fun and bragging rights conferred by sailing in and out of confined waters, it really should be a huge embarrassment for any sailboat owner to call for a tow just because the engine is down, so close-quarters sailing skills are worth working on.

    These skills can also keep us off the rocks in the event of an engine failure on a lee shore.

    Here’s an article to get us started.

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